Climbing rope is one of the most important pieces of rock climbing equipment you can buy. These super tough cords are what keep you alive when you fall off a cliff, so it's vital to know what you should be spending your hard earned cash on.
At first glance, climbing ropes might seem pretty simple but they're actually packed full of features that make each rope great for different types of climbing. When you pick up a climbing rope you should have a good idea of what you want to do with it, where you're likely to use it and how it will fit with your climbing style and other equipment. Armed with this knowledge you can make a good investment and choose the rope that works best for you.
To help you pick the rope you need here are some handy pointers of what to look out for when buying climbing rope and a couple of suggested models to get you started.
Climbing Rope Qualities
Length – The length of climbing rope you need will vary depending on where you are going to climb. Obviously the size of walls varies but as a general rule of thumb a 30-40m rope should do if you are only going to climb indoors, 50-60m should work well for most outdoor routes while 70m plus are normally reserved for big wall climbing and multi-pitch routes.
Diameter/Thickness – Climbing ropes come in a variety of thicknesses from 8mm up to 11mm. The thicker your rope is the longer it should last and the more punishment it can take, however thicker ropes are also heavier and tend to drag more as you climb making you work a bit harder to top out.
Rope thickness is also an important consideration when belaying because you need to make sure you have a rope that will fit into your belay device and give you enough friction to be able to belay properly.
Sheath – The sheath is the rope's outer covering which sits over the inner nylon core of the rope. Thicker sheath's are normally harder wearing, giving you better protection against abrasion and damage from climbing. Bear in mind though that sheath's can be up 30-40% of a rope's total weight so thicker sheaths will make your ropes heavier.
Weight – Climbing rope weight is measured in grammes per meter which helps you figure out how much your chosen length of rope will weigh.
UIAA Fall Rating – The Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme rates all climbing ropes based on how many serious falls they can take before failing. The higher the rating, the more durable a climbing rope is.
UIAA Impact Rating - The UIAA also rates ropes based on how heavy the fall will feel. As you fall climbing ropes will stretch to ease the impact on your body and your climbing gear. The UIAA measures this impact in kiloNewtons with an upper limit of 12kn and a maximum rope stretch of 40% during a single fall.
UIAA Static/Working Elongation Rating – This rating identifies how much the rope will stretch when an 80kg weight is loaded onto it. This rating is shown as a percentage with higher figures indicating a rope that will stretch more when you rest your weight on it.
Climbing Rope Features
Bi-Pattern Sheaths – Some ropes come with two different sheath patterns which changeover halfway down the climbing rope, indicating its centre point. This is useful for figuring out the height of a route and it speeds up how quickly you can use and pack the rope too.
End Warning Marks – These marks are made with either die or thread and are designed to let you know when you are coming to the end of a rope so that you stop abseiling before you fall off, but even if you have these a well placed stopper knot is also a good idea.
Dry Treatment – Wet ropes do not perform as well as dry ropes and because of this, many climbing ropes come with some form of waterproofing. Dry treatments can be as simple as a waterproof coating applied to the outside of the rope or a chemical treatment that soaks into the core as well as the sheath giving you the best moisture protection available.
What To Buy?
If you're looking to save the pennies but still want a good quality rope then check out the Tendon Smart. At 10mm, this entry level rope will grip well in most belay devices and it has a light waterproof coating that will give some protection against moisture. With a weight of 65 g/m the Smart is not the lightest of ropes but it does offer great value for first time climbers and anyone who is cost conscious.
The Sterling Marathon Pro is one beast of a rope. Weighing in at 63g/m and with a diameter of 10.1mm this is a heavier end piece of kit that you'll be glad to have on board for big outdoor climbs and tough conditions. With its extra thick outer sheath and Dry Core/Coat treatment the Marathon Pro is a rope that can handle anything you throw at it.
For all the climbing wall fans out there, the Edelrid Tower is the rope for you. With a 10.5mm diameter this is a rope built to stand up to the wear and tear of top roping and will grip well in belay devices. At 69 g/m you'll know that you are carrying the Tower around, but the rope's Thermo Shield coating is designed to give it supple and easy handling when you're at the wall. With a UIAA fall rating of 9, this rope is a great gym buddy and can be used for fair weather sport climbs too.
If speed is the name of your game, look no further than the Beal Opera. At 8.5mm thick and weighing just 47g/m this is probably the lightest climbing rope on the planet. The Opera's slim build means it runs smoothly and easily through carabiners while Beal's top dry treatment, Golden Dry, makes sure that it won't swell too much even in the wet.
A rope this thin and fast won't be the workhorse of your collection. The Opera isn't designed for beginners and will take an experienced belayer to run safely, but when you're ready to send your latest killer route this is the rope you'll want.
Can't make up your mind? Then try out the Mammut Infinity. At 9.5mm this is towards the thinner end of the scale and handles well but it's tough construction and Teflon coated sheath means the Infininty should last a while. With a weight of 58g/m it's not too difficult to lug around, it also comes with a handy mid point marker and it fits in most models of belay device too.
The slim build of the Infinity isn't ideal for beginner climbers, who may want a rope built for more punishment, but as a general all purpose rope for intermediate climbers this ticks all the boxes.